Before we left home, we had a conversation with Eva about where and how often she would visit. Eva had been our neighbor 5+ years ago in Silverton for a short time, but remained one of our closest friends long after we moved from next door. She's also 74, but that fact is hardly important since she has the spirit and sense of adventure of someone our age or younger. Places like Patagonia, Columbia, Ecuador, and Africa were all thrown around, but in the end we settled on four visits as the perfect amount and that the actual locations were less important. So when we started talking in April about Eva's first visit, the location was the least important thing to decide. A month later, we picked her up at the airport in Guatemala City for a two week stay at Lago de Atitlan.
After seven months of traveling, the newness and excitement can start to wear off, and you don't appreciate the incredible opportunity that immersing yourself in a foreign country can be. You start to take for granted, the strangeness of being surrounded by foreign languages and people with completely different cultures and traditions. For that reason, it is so refreshing to have someone visit for whom these experiences are brand new. You start to see again how incredible watching women weaving handmade goods in traditional dress or making tortillas or carrying huge bundles on their heads to the nearest market can be.
The other incredible thing about Eva specifically, was her willingness to fully engage with the people despite the language and cultural barrier. My favorite experience of her whole visit came on one of our first adventures across the lake. KP stayed behind to do some computer work he'd been putting off, so Eva and I decided to take that opportunity to visit San Juan where the majority of the lake's handmade textiles are made. We got off the boat in San Pedro and decided to wander to a nearby bar I had seen previously that looked good for a quick lunch... Immediately upon sitting down I realized I was wrong and had accidentally taken Eva to the local middle-aged gringo hangout, complete with Rogue Beer and a gringo friendly menu of clubhouse sandwiches, burgers, and fries. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a beer from home, my first in 6 months, but then we got the heck out of there and hailed a ride to San Juan.
Our Tuk-Tuk driver was a lovely, jovial man who was happy to show us around the area and take us to his favorite local restaurant for some REAL Guatemalan food. Eva had the brilliant and completely crazy-for-a-tourist idea of asking him to join us for lunch. I did my best to invite him in my terrible, but improving every day, Spanish and he gladly obliged. He brought us inside and immediately took us past the dining area and through the kitchen to a rooftop bar accessed at the back of the restaurant. We then spent the next hour drinking gallo and eating an incredibly good lunch of local fish from the lake grilled whole and served with rice, salad, and avocado. I did my best to carry a conversation in Spanish and translate for Eva whenever possible. Frederico was such a lovely man who shared stories of his wife, who he adored, and their two young sons. It turned out to be an incredible experience that I never would have had without Eva's natural ease with people and welcoming personality.
The other story that stands out was our trip to Santiago to find the saint Maximón, and bestow upon him offerings on behalf of ourselves and the owner of Carmen Beer Co. who we'd met back in March. The effigy of this saint changes homes annually and is always presided over by at least two men, called Cofradia, who keep the altar and sacred items in order. An offering to Maximón of cigars, cigarettes, spirits, and money is said to be returned to the giver in the form of prosperity in business and in love, as well as in good health for you and your crops. We set out in the morning with our offerings of airplane booze bottles and some chocolate our friend Magda had provided.
We did something we don't usually do and hired a guide to take us through town to some of the more popular sites and to help us find Maximón in his current resting place. It was the right decision as our guide was knowledgeable, kind, and efficient at showing us everything we wanted to see in about an hour. We visited a shop where a woman showed us how the intricate and very unique hats that the locals wear are assembled, We also visited an area of the bay where the local women come to wash their clothes in the enriched waters of the lake. They don't do this out of necessity but out of tradition and as a way to commune together. Our guide described this spot as Mayan Facebook!
Visiting Maximón was the clear highlight though. We wound our way through small cobblestoned alleys and past homes and workshops until we found the small room that was Maximón's current location. Attended by three men, the 4 foot tall effigy complete with hat and cigar, struck an impressive stance in the center of the room. Our guide explained the significance and told us about the rituals done to honor the god. It was then that he asked if we would like to buy beers for the attendants and we realized this was our chance to make some fast friends. The sight of the three identical grins that broke out when the guide said we would buy some beers, and the simultaneous pointing that sent KP in the direction of the nearby tienda was a sight to warm the heart. When he returned with the beers, we stepped up to Maximón and presented our offerings. The head shaman removed the cigar from Maximón's mouth and tipped him back in order to pour the first of the two bottles we offered into his waiting mouth. If he could have smiled I believe he would have as they returned the cigar to his mouth and propped him back up. We placed our stickers and some Quetzales in the waiting offering tray and bid farewell to our new favorite Mayan god.
After a stop at the local church, our driver dropped us off at his favorite local restaurant where we had another fabulous lunch of fresh fish and all the fixin's. A bumpy and damp ride across the lake brought us back to our home away from home in time to meet our good friends Caren and Jean Louis for a wonderful dinner in town. We ended the night with a little live music courtesy of Jean Louis, myself, and a lot of tequila.
The 15 days we spent with Eva at the lake were full of quiet moments passed working or reading in each other's company, and incredible adventures spent exploring the vibrant culture of the lake. The time was over far too quick and there are far too many incredible stories to put them all down here. We will doubtless have more when Eva visits us next and shows us again the beauty that can come with fresh eyes.
Thank you Eva, we love you!
P.S. If you follow our Facebook page you might have picked up on the fact that we are not actually heading to Mexico to ship to Columbia as originally planned. We are in fact heading to Costa Rica to store the truck for three months while we return home for a few months of work and some upcoming family events. We'll be flying out late June and back on the road in October to continue to South America. Knowing us this could change again, but as of know it seems to be the plan... We'll keep the blog going while home and maybe fill in some of the stories we left out from the last 8 months of travel.